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A Brief History of the Parish of St. Mary, Beausejour
On the corner of Third Street and Atlantic Avenue in the Town of Beausejour is an impressive red brick building, St. Mary Roman Catholic Church. It stands as a testament to the faith of the Catholic community who helped to build it. The story of how this structure came to exist and the people involved in building and maintaining it, is part of the unique and interesting past that makes up this parish’s history.
Beginning in the 1890s, missionary priests from St Boniface, the Archdiocese in which St. Mary is located, would travel occasionally to the area to serve the spiritual needs of the Catholic settlers and say Mass in local homes. The first Christmas Midnight Mass in the area was celebrated by Fr Magnon at the home of M. J. Hoban in 1901. To help serve the many new settlers of Polish origin, Archbishop Langevin appointed Polish Oblate missionary priests who served the Beausejour area from1898-1904.
In 1904 the Oblates ended their service and Beausejour became a mission of the church in Selkirk. In 1905 the Archdiocese gave Fr. Belanger, the resident priest in Selkirk, the authority to build a mission church called St Paul's in Beausejour. Because of disagreements with the parishioners, it was abandoned when a new church was built at a different location.
Fr. Roche Margos was the first resident priest in Beausejour. In 1909 he began to lay the foundation for a new church by choosing a site at the current location of St Mary and building a rectory. The church was completed under the pastorate of Fr. A. P. Polawski in 1911 and on December 12, 1911, the first Mass was celebrated in the new building. To the joy of the many parishioners of Polish origin, the parish was “canonically erected” on Feb 12, 1912 under the title “B. M. V. Reginae Poloniae. At first it was commonly translated as “Blessed Virgin Queen of Poland” or “Our Lady Queen of Poland.” Eventually it became known simply as “St. Mary.”
In 1916, St Boniface’s Archbishop Beliveau asked the Polish Oblates to again take charge of Beausejour as well as the missions in Brokenhead, Whitemouth and Elma. Fr. Leonard Nandzik,O.M.I., Fr. Francis B. Kowalski,O.M.I., and Fr. Peter Meissner,O.M.I. consecutively served the Parish. In 1924 the Archbishop of St. Boniface requested Polish/English bilingual La Salette Missionary Fathers to take charge of the Beausejour parish and its missions. The La Salette priests accepted the responsibility and thus began over 60 years of dedicated service to a growing and thriving parish.
In May 1924, Fr. John Zimmerman, M.S. arrived as temporary pastor of St. Mary until the arrival of Fr. Ladislaus Sajek, M.S. in January 1925 Fr Sajek immediately began repairing and remodelling the church building and in 1926 built a new rectory. Unfortunately, in September 1931, the church and the rectory were destroyed by fire. New buildings, however, were quickly rebuilt under the direction of Fr. Sajek.
Some of the assistant La Salette priests during Fr Sajek’s pastorate were Fr. Lozinski, Fr. Majka, Fr. Slusarz, Fr. Scheck, Fr. Pienta, Fr. Olszewski and Fr. Kustosz. Over the years they also helped to serve mission churches in places such as Ladywood, Brightstone, Allegra, Buchan, Cloverleaf, Elma, Stead, Whitemouth and Tyndall.
Left - 2nd St Mary Church and Rectory ca.1940 – at its present site along Atlantic Ave.
Green Hall - a distance behind the church and site of future Parish Hall
Right- Greek Catholic Church - originally site of first church (St Paul’s) on Second Street
Fr. Peter Jaworski M.S. arrived as pastor in 1941. His first project as pastor was to build a new parish hall which he hoped would provide the parishioners a place where they could build community. When the second church was destroyed by fire on February 4, 1945, the new hall could fortunately be used for services while a bigger and better church was being built. Fr. Jaworski and his assistant, Fr Joseph Gurka, worked tirelessly to build and equip a new, modern and impressive church.
The cornerstone of the new church was blessed on July 21, 1946 and the church was officially completed in June, 1947. The main altar was made of black Vitrolite glass engraved and decorated with an image of “Our Lady of Czestochowa”
Renowned artist, Leo Mol, painted murals on the walls and ceiling. Since their completion in 1952, the paintings have been appreciated by both parishioners and tourists, and have gained immense value with the growing recognition of Leo Mol as an accomplished artist.
Fr. Jaworski was also responsible for building a replica of the Shrine to Our Lady of La Salette in La Salette, France, on the church grounds. It was inaugurated on Sept 24th, 1950 and has since been the site of annual pilgrimages in the month of September.
With these structures in place and with enthusiastic hard working La Salette clergy like Fr. Jaworski’s successor in 1955, Fr. Joseph Gurka, and assistants such as Fr. Mateuszek, Fr. Leonard Karpinski, Fr Joseph Ferus, Fr. Chester Urzedowski, and Fr. Stanley Przysiezniak the parish community of St. Mary grew. Organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, the Altar Society and later the CWL also contributed to the community life and support of the parish
In 1965, after 10 years of serving the parish as pastor, Fr. Gurka was transferred to Thunder Bay and Fr. Thaddeus Plawny M.S was sent to replace him. Fr. Ferus returned as the assistant until 1974 when he was replaced by Father Jim Stajkowski M.S. who remained until 1981.
Fr Plawny will be remembered for his efforts to incorporate the changes of Vatican II into the parish during the 17 years of his pastorate. In the late sixties, the basement of the church was developed as a parish center with a hall, kitchen and meeting rooms. In 1978, major renovations were carried out in the main church to comply with post-Vatican II directives. The large rear facing altar, the communion rails and the ornate pulpit were removed and a simpler wooden altar and sanctuary furnishings were installed. The choir area was relocated down near the front of the church in order to face the people. A large carved wood crucifix now dominated the sanctuary.
In March 1982, Fr Plawny was transferred to Thunder Bay. Fr. John Janicki, who had been the pastor in Ladywood, was then in charge of Beausejour until 1985.
By this time the La Salette Order wanted to leave the parish in order to consolidate their work elsewhere. In 1985, Fr. Terry Niziolek M.S. arrived and worked for two years to facilitate a smooth transition and in 1987 the La Salette Order passed on the administration of Beausejour and its missions to the Archdiocese of St Boniface.
Fr. Carl Tarnopolski was the first diocesan priest to pastor and serve in Beausejour. Fr. Carl also served the church in Whitemouth and was responsible for building up the Our Lady of Hope Church in Anola. He was followed in 1996 by Fr. Sebastian Gacki who served the parish for three years.
In August, 1999, Fr. Owen Steeves came to the parish. Under his leadership volunteers and trades people worked together to accomplish much needed repairs and remodeling of the church buildings and grounds. A new metal roof was installed in 2000 to help protect the valuable ceiling paintings of Leo Mol. For the 50th anniversary of the Beausejour La Salette Shrine, the Shrine was repaired and re-landscaped. The walkways were made more easily accessible, especially for elderly or handicapped pilgrims. The statues were painted and the outdoor Way of the Cross stations were spread out over a larger area of the church grounds. The interior of the church was also rejuvenated including a Memorial Wall on the south wall of the sanctuary. A baptistry area was built to accommodate adult baptisms. With the permission and direction of Leo Mol, his ceiling paintings were cleaned and damaged areas repaired by artist Bev Bedford of Dove Designs who also added some pictures to the walls at the entrance to the church. The wood floors and the pews were refinished. In the lower level, the kitchen area was expanded, new cabinets were installed and the hall area was repainted. A small chapel was placed in one of the side rooms. The sound system in the church was updated and now includes a video projection system. A wheel-chair ramp was added to the east entrance of the church and an area for wheelchair seating was made available. The front steps were reconstructed in 2004.
Renovations were also done to the rectory to provide an upstairs self-contained suite for the resident priest. Thus, allowing for office and reception space on the main floor. Fr. Owen led the organization, computer cataloguing, and expansion of the new area in St Mary’s Cemetery. The Crucifix from St Peter & Paul Church in Ladywood (which was now closed) was placed in the center of the Old Cemetery. A columbarium was also placed in the new section of the cemetery near the Quiet Area.
In September 2005, Fr. David Brabant came to serve the parish for two years. In August 2007, he was replaced by Fr. Mark Drozniak who also served the parish for two years. Fr Owen Steeves returned as pastor of St Mary in August 2009
Interior of St Mary Roman Catholic Church 2009
Today, the church and the rectory remain as an impressive monument to the faith, determination and hard work of the pastors and parishioners for over one hundred years. The membership of the present parish now includes many people of different nationalities and a variety of ethnic backgrounds all bringing with them their own cultural characteristics and gifts. The parish continues to be supported by enthusiastic members who work faithfully in their mission of building up the kingdom of God.
For the Greater Honour and Glory of God!